September 27, 2008

Consequences of the Fall

Jessica, at the end of a long hike, was tired, thirsty, and impatient: "I wish everything was perfect," she complained.

I was about to remind her that nothing apart from God is when she added: "I wish when Eve saw that apple she just clapped her hands together and left it alone."

September 21, 2008

Taking Candy from a Baby

One-year old Jessica sat on my arm, her fingers prying into my lips, while I cleared dishes. She often used to touch me in the special way of someone who doesn't know what it means to poke out your eyes.

But soon her nails started scratching painfully at my teeth and gums while she peered into my mouth.

"What are you doing?" I laughed, holding her out at arm's length, knowing she would not answer.

"She smells the chocolate," Camille chimed in.

Ah, yes. I have a sweet tooth, and chocolate is my chief vice. Too often there's some in my mouth, and sure enough, Jessica was making for it.

At nine years old, Nathaniel's taste is finally broadening. In fact yesterday he made himself a ham sandwich that incorporated strawberry jam, cheese, pickles, peanuts, and barbecue sauce.

But as a toddler, he had mysteriously transformed from an omnivore to a fussy eater. Camille and I were exasperated with trying to feed him a balanced diet.

"Just try the asparagus," I said. "You don't have to eat them all, but you have to eat two."

"I don't like them," he said, tears coming into his eyes. We had been through this before.

"You don't know you don't like them," I insisted. "You've never, ever eaten asparagus in your entire life." I was pretty sure he hadn't eaten it uncooked, anyway.

"I know what I like," he said. "I don't have to try it."

"How can you know what you like if you haven't even tried it? Maybe you'll love it."

"I always know what I like. I like Mac and Cheese. I like Cheerios. I like chocolate."

Something dark crept into my mind. "You don't always like chocolate," I said.

Scornful disbelief. "I always like chocolate."

"No," I said back at him slowly. "You don't know until you try." I pulled a box of baking chocolate from the cabinet. Unsweetened.

I set a square ceremoniously onto a clean plate. Without hesitation he took the bait. He was so sure of himself that for a fraction of a second he actually gloated at me in triumph. Then he ran to the bathroom.

As he frantically scooped water into his lips, I sermonized at him, "You don't know if you like something until you try it."

He never did eat the asparagus.

We still control our children's diets, so treats are really treats for them. They greet a slice of birthday cake or a bowl of ice cream excitedly: Jessica has been known to quiver with heady anticipation.

Long ago I introduced the idea of testing for poison. How uncertainly she looked at me the first few times I carefully tasted a corner of a brownie while assuring her I was protecting her from possible harm. Now, even before a cookie hits her plate, she proclaims, "There's no poison in it, Dad! You don't have to test it."

Lately she's varying her routine. As I entered the kitchen yesterday morning, she leaned over her plate, spread her arms protectively, and called, "The Pop Tart shop is now closed!"

Among the many lovely things Camille does for me is to have the children copy and illustrate poems. Nathaniel recently chose Shel Silverstein's poem, "Poison-Tester." It includes lines like these:

. . . Mmm--it's OK, but these boysenberries--I'll make sure they're not poisonberries.
Mmm--no, they're safe, but that burger might be deadly.
Mmm-no, it's all right. And now I'll test your hot fudge sundae . . .

It's good to know I'm not the only dad who tests for poison.

Both children love to help us cook. Lately the path to pancakes is strewn with bits of eggshells, and I've become expert at extracting them from our mixing bowls.

The children now also occasionally cook for us. I mean "cook" in the sense of adding milk to cereal or microwaving leftovers, but it pleases me to no end.

If Nathaniel is awake with me early in the morning, he'll sometimes offer to prepare a bowl of oatmeal for me while I shave. He tops it off with yogurt and nuts, just like a fancy restaurant. Somehow his tastes better.

Situated between a Home Depot parking lot and the town dump, we have a wonderful local ice cream stand. Unlike the nearby Ben and Jerry's--understaffed, over-priced, and occasionally out of milk--it's a great spot. It means everything to Jessica that she can order her own ice cream.

Always I ask "Do you want to share one with me? We can get something really special." And always she answers "No, Dad. I want my own." And we buy her a "baby" sized cone, and she picks her flavor, and she's perfectly content.

Secretly I want her to share with me. There's some kind of a super-mega-ultra-lightning sundae on the menu, and I swear I'll buy it if she ever offers to share with me, just to make the point that good things come to those who share.

But I think I'll see her married first.